Tough Enough 1

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tough Enough (part one)

It’s 6:40 am and gleaming beams of sunlight is just beginning to peer between the towering apartment complexes on the east end of Jasper Avenue. Folks are scattering about, jostling for their spot in line at the drop-in or just simply loitering on the curb in front. It’s a daily ritual for many of us which at times can be quite entertaining considering the clientele. There are those who are still drunk or drinking and high from a night of revelry in da hood and bodies are strewn along the building sleeping off the effects of the previous evening, or just simply sleeping. I myself stand in line weaving to and fro, eyes closed and attempting to emulate the soft confines of slumber before the need to shake out any residual cobwebs from a weary mind. 
There is usually a mess out front here with the shopping carts and makeshift tents, bike parts, wiring and metal waiting to be taken in for cash. Bissell employees as well as patrons try to keep it clean but a lot can accumulate overnight and as I stand behind a fellow not far behind me in years and catching up with the slight odor of urine in tow, the ode de toilet of the streets so to speak, I hear the escalating sound of someone crying out in pain. Eeeerraahowww…

I turn, searching for the source of complaint and observe a young man bent over working on his bike, the rear derailleur I believe and another wearing a ball cap turned backwards breaking apart some old appliances for recycling. There… a third, just behind the fellow with the bike, a young man in a bandana is leaning over something… a chair I believe but can’t be certain for my view is blocked by the sidewalk mechanic. I notice others in line are watching as well and since they have a better view of what’s going on I say to myself it couldn’t be too serious, if it were they would say something. We don’t allow that sort of thing get too carried away around here.
I turned back around to await the explanation of pain, and then it came. “Whatcha do with my money man” exclaimed a raspy voice. There was no reply so I turned again, this time to see a man wearing a hoody. He leaned forward from what appeared to be a patio chair and holding his left hand over his right collar bone, looking dazed he finally replies, “What happened?” At this point the bandana had traveled the few feet to check out buddy working on the appliances and was returning to his quarry. “I want my f-----g money is what, where is it?” he reiterates pacing. Well this guy in the chair is either still partially asleep or he’s riding some kinda crazy cloud of chaos for it’s all he could do but to try and rub out the pain as he lazily looks at his assailant to manage a weak wha…what, I don’t…what? “Wit dat girl… the other night, you were with that f-----g girl” his voice dropping as he explains, realizing the conversation is drifting into business not necessarily for the ears of those around.
 It’s a common story in the hood where someone owes somebody money past due. I myself see about once a week, either in the drop-in or out on the street, somebody screaming out to a friend or to one of their clients the need for payment. But mainly this happens a week or two prior to what is referred to as Mardi gras, not just a term reserved for New Orleans but it’s when social assistance or aish checks come out. The drop-in, not to mention the food lines, are fairly scarce with people during check week and the employment services at the Bissell have a hard time filling jobs that week as well, simply because folks just received their big checks and are busy whooping it up. That week just before Mardi gras is particularly hectic though as I have mentioned. People get antsy, impatient with the anticipation of a good bender, arguments and even fights break out here there and everywhere oh my... (Lol) Well it may not be as bad as you may think but it is fairly prevalent. It’s like I say, if you’re gonna play, sooner or later you’ve got to pay… Wait a minute... I do believe there is a biblical lesson which covers that premise is there not? (I sense some homework on your part, lol)
The guy in the chair now is starting to show signs of life and talking more coherently “That bitch, I don’t know where she is, she’s probab…”, and that’s when bandana man cut him off and said that he didn’t care about the girl and that he just wanted his money. The conversation continued but in a more civil manner, well quieter anyway. The doors were opening to the drop-in and the line was beginning to move as well so I missed the outcome of that conversation.   
Well there could be a few scenarios to this story, none of which is favorable to this man’s reputation. The girl is a huge indicator that he possibly got played into overspending on drugs and/or alcohol with the insinuation that she would make it worth his while, or perhaps it was he who went into debt of his own accord, playing the big shot in the hopes that if he just kept her happy she’d feel compelled to return a favor in some way. Perhaps he just didn’t want the fun to stop. In any case it seems clear that hoody tried to shift the bandana man’s focus off of himself onto the girl to no avail. To be honest I recognized the man in the hoody so I was a little surprised to see him take such a passive role. Then again, he did get caught with his pants down, (giggle) so to speak, didn’t he (giggle). Sadly, that’s the way it is though with many people, they’ll give a little something in the hopes of getting back down the road. Unfortunately, sometimes an expected return is not stipulated on the outset of what seems to be a free gift and this is done on purpose to entrap a favor out of the receiver of said gift, sneaky huh?
It’s hard to find good people who do good things without the expectance of receiving something in return, even among many so call Christian folk. I have witnessed many times how volunteers to charitable organizations so wanted to have their pictures taken doing their good deed or get the t-shirt exclaiming as much. Even just so they may utilize the authorized access only perks, I mean the list goes on. To give you an example, I had ask a pastor from the Salvation Army church I attended after rehab to write me a letter of recommendation for a university. Well he did, he also baptized me shortly after I had dropped out said university. Then when I started to attend another church some time after, he threw those two facts in my face as though I owed him. Oh and believe me when I tell you that I felt no guilt whatsoever for leaving, for I know the only one I do owe is our Lord God almighty, my King.
In retrospect however let me say that even true and good hearted people who don’t care about the perks have, at one time or another, cried out to God “what about me… don’t I do well for others, what do I get for my sacrifices.” Hey, I’ve done it myself and probably will do it again, it’s hard to struggle on and on and not see a return for not following in many ways of the flesh. Then again expecting to see a return for our works is following in the ways of the flesh, isn’t it? Possibly, and then again possibly not, let us reflect on the sacrifices that Jesus made throughout His life, with the spilling of His blood and His death upon the cross. Did He not say to “go and sin no more” to those He healed? Does the bible not say that because of His sacrifice, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that we are to be slaves to the one and risen Christ? Well what do you know, I believe it does…
Think about it closely though… even though we may no longer be slaves to sin do we not still sin? Do we not backslide into old habits and find it seemingly impossible from time to time to keep all His statutes, and yet it is He who remains faithful. Thank the Lord our God for grace, and remember that it is also written that His ways are above our ways. For it is not in this life we are to receive our reward for our good works, but in heaven. So let’s be tough enough to humble ourselves to God and take to heart the fact that in some instances, in this life, we may never see the fruits of our labor.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine who at one time used to serve the homeless and less fortunate. This friend carried on like this for some time and very cheerfully I might add but somewhere along the way became discouraged, as I am sure many do when they witness day after day their hard work, prayers and advice to those who wander aimlessly go seemingly unheeded. She’d tell me “what’s the point… they’ll just spend their money on drugs with the knowledge that they will be fed and clothed by charitable organizations anyway”. I can remember years ago thinking that way when I was deep in drug use but that is not the point is it. I’ll tell you as I told my friend, just because it appears to our worldly eyes that the seeds we have sown are not bearing fruit, does not mean there is no fruit. It’s about sharing Gods love with the “least of these”. I also remember thinking how grateful I was for the people who shared that love and wished that I was strong enough to be in their position, so it does have an effect.
There are many on the streets who don’t want to be there, most of us try and try again to get “normal”. We go to rehab over and over, get clean and then some calamity would come along to cause a trigger, reverting us back into not caring. Usually it’s some kind of rejection or loss of someone or thing that we love. What can I say, many of us in some respects are weak, and I have only one thing to say about that. Jesus did not come for the righteous, but for the weak and poor in spirit. PRAISE HIS NAME.
I am sure that many of you have asked yourselves how we could live like that. Well many can’t, hence the suicides, and others would compile their drug use to numb the shame and ugliness of, well, their drug use. I have, on many occasions bought more drugs than I wanted in order to mask the pain of not being the father I should have been to my kids. Silly I know, and it’s also self defeating but it was what it was.
Allow me to add one more thing as to what it was before we pause. Fear… well to be more precise, the look of fear. To look at someone’s face and see complete and utter terror in their eyes and knowing that you’re responsible for this…this evil. From my days as a collector as well as other instances in my life, I have to live with the memory of many such faces of horror, and not just of those who owed the people I worked for.
  Who knows you may read about those instances some day if you care to stick around but for now I think I’ll let you get back to your lives and loved ones. Stay tuned though for part two of “Tough Enough” where I’ll write more about my time as a drug runner and collector. Let’s not forget the abundant fortitude and love of those who many see as… insignificant.

P.S. I would also like to publically thank the very lovely woman from my writing class who donated her laptop to me so that I may continue to bore the heck out of you, lol. All da Luv



  1. Thanks for the encouragement Johnny towards us who still struggle with sin and those who work in the inner-city. The most devastating thing for me as a worker is not seeing change. I ask for forgiveness for my lack of faith. May we, one day in paradise celebrate for all that we have accomplished through the work of the Faithful One. PRAISE HIS NAME!(also is the biblical lesson by chance found in Galatians 6:7-8??)

  2. I could take a lesson from this fellow that left the comment. God forgive me. You are a great writer my friend!!


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